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In 1970, a man named Edward Packard was telling his daughters a bedtime story about a character he made up named Pete. Every night, Pete would encounter different adventures, and Packard would make up a new adventure for Pete on the spot. But one night Packard ran out of things for Pete to do. If you are a parent, you know exactly what this guy was going through.
So with no ideas for what Pete was going to do next, Packard asked his daughters what the character’s adventure would be that night. Each daughter came up with a different idea, and so Packard came up with a different ending for each adventure.
Choose Your Own Adventure books were born.
And it went on to become one of the bestselling children’s books during the 1980’s and ‘90’s, selling over 250 million copies. The magic of Choose Your Own Adventure is that the reader gets to become a participant in the story. Rather than just absorbing the information, one gets to have a say in what information is presented to them.
Often when we lecture, the story and information is being told by one source. This can work for a time, but study after study has shown that people can only sit and listen for so long before they lose interest and the teacher loses engagement.
Having your students interact with your story, your lecture, is vital. Direct instruction does not mean that the teacher is the only one who gets to talk. Teachers can create opportunities for students to join the story and determine how it gets told. There are a number of ways to create pauses in your speaking and allow students to interact with it. Here are a few suggestions to allow students to be a part of the adventure.
Turn and Talk
At any given point in your story, pose a question to students. It could be what they think happens next, or a reflection of what they’ve heard so far. Then have students turn to the people around them and discuss the prompt. Mix opportunities for students to turn and talk throughout any lecture that you ever give.
Like Turn and Talk, you first pose a prompt to the students. However, before discussing with each other, give them time to think and process by themselves. Following an allotted amount of time, students discuss with a each other, in pairs or group. Next, the students share with the rest of the class what they talked about.
Sketch-noting, or visual note-taking are visual stories a student creates when listening to a speaker or reading a text. Rather than traditional note-taking techniques, where it can be easy to regurgitate information in text and not actually comprehend the material, the learner sketches out what they are hearing and creates images of the story. To be able to draw what one is hearing or reading, one has to have some comprehension of it. This encourages engagement with the story and active listening.
Sketch notes can contain a combination of visual and text notes. The primary objective is for the students to create notes that work best for them.
Students create two columns on a sheet of paper. Title one column: “Quotes,” and the other column, “Thoughts.” As students are listening to the lecture, they write down any quotes they hear that stand out to them in the “Quotes” column. In the “Thoughts” column next to the quote they wrote down, they write their reaction. Their reaction can sometimes be whatever is in their stream of consciousness, simply putting their thoughts on paper. They can also write down questions that they have, to be asked later or just to ponder over. The Double Entry Diary serves two purposes. First, it makes great notes for students to recap what they heard and to study if there will be a test or paper later. However, more importantly it provides another opportunity for students to engage with the story. It simulates a conversation with themselves, giving them focus and making them think about everything they are hearing.
12 word summary
At any given point in the lecture, have students summarize important aspects of a particular section of the story in 12 words or less. While lacking detail, this is a useful way to make sure students are comprehending the key points of the story. How many words are in the average tweet? If a kid can pack a thought in a tweet, they should be able to do this.
Name the story
Have students identify the different parts of the story. What is the setting, theme, and plot? What is the conflict? How do you think it will be resolved?
Be intentional with the story in your lectures or talks, allowing your students in on the fact that you designed the lecture that way. Knowing this, they will look for different elements as you tell it, creating engagement.
We don't need to abandon the lecture at all. Instead we just need to make it interactive, and invite our students to be apart of it.
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Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist who mastered the study of great stories. He identified a pattern we see in most great stories called the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey starts with a hero, the protagonist or main character of a plot in which the story revolves. To sum the pattern up into the most simple of terms, Campbell says this hero starts in what is called the ordinary world. This could be considered the calm before the storm, where we get to know the hero and their setting before he or she hears the call to adventure. This is the point in a hero’s journey where their world is shaken up, and they have to decide whether they are going to do something about it or not. Often, the hero refuses the initial call, choosing to avoid danger and trials that can cause pain and fear. But in a great story, she eventually embarks into the unknown, seeking adventure.
Adventure is full of danger and surprise; tests and challenges that introduce the hero to parts of the world she has not seen before. In a great story, a hero rarely ends an adventure unscathed, but also returns to the ordinary world with new strengths to use in later adventures. Campbell calls this the Return With the Elixir. This is what makes the journey worth it. Almost every Disney or Pixar movie is about a hero taking this journey. Think about the Lion King, and what Simba learned after losing his father, running away from home, and eventually defeating his evil uncle to retake his throne and rightful place in the world. Would Simba be as great of a leader without first battling hyenas? Would the peace of Hakuna Matata entered his heart without first crossing a desert? The hero’s journey is about leaving what is comfortable for experiences that build and strengthen a character.
So often, school does everything it can to maintain the ordinary world, keeping the heroes from entering unknown spaces and potential failure. Students sit in rows to control order. Teachers call it a classroom management technique, when really it is mundane-management, a strategy to prevent the unexpected. The answers are in the backs of textbooks to prevent any surprises. We teach the same content every single year because then we know what’s coming.
There is a very wealthy school district in the county that I live that will not provide laptops or tablets to students because they are worried that new technology will distract from the learning that needs to take place. Not because of financial issues, but because the internet causes more variables than a textbook.
A hero cannot embark on their journey if they are locked in a room without a key. And a hero cannot obtain the Elixir, their new strength, knowledge, character, wisdom, skill, etc- if they do not leave the ordinary world.
So what can you do to set your students up for the hero’s journey?
Maybe try teaching with a project and give students authentic goals to strive for?
Invite in people from the community to partner with your students and create a solution for a specific problem.
What if you let them plan the next unit, and you just facilitate their learning rather than teach it?
Whatever it is, realize that your students are characters who can become heroes, and you are helping write the story that lets them do that.